The lymph nodes in your neck and other parts of your body can be swollen for years, but not be a sign of cancer. You might have a common cold or throat infection, or another health condition such as lupus or arthritis.

If you have a swollen lymph node on your neck or elsewhere for long periods of time, your first thought may be that you have cancer because swollen lymph nodes are sometimes linked with cancer. That may not necessarily be the case.

Although swollen lymph nodes are sometimes linked to cancer, more often than not they are benign (not cancerous) and occur as the result of an illness or other health condition. In fact, research shows that when swollen lymph nodes are biopsied for cancer, they rarely turn out to be malignant (cancerous).

This article will provide more detail on what causes beyond cancer might lead to swollen lymph nodes for long periods of time, and when you might consider consulting a physician about your symptoms.

When lymph nodes become swollen, the condition is called “lymphadenopathy.”

Typically, lymph nodes stay swollen for about 2 weeks or so.

However, physicians may become concerned if your lymph node stays swollen for more than 4 weeks. Even if they remain swollen for that many weeks or longer, it’s rare that your swollen lymph node would indicate cancer.

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are oval-shaped structures located throughout the body. They contain immune cells which help fight off viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders. They are a major player in the body’s immune system. Lymph nodes tend to become swollen in response to an infection, or other health condition.

You have more than 800 lymph nodes scattered throughout your body. About one-third of them are located in your head and neck. When lymph nodes swell, this tends to happen in the neck, under the chin, or in the armpit or groin area.

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There are many reasons that lymph nodes become swollen without cancer being a cause.

While it’s not always possible to determine the main reason, your lymph nodes can swell for various reasons.


Infections that cause swollen lymph nodes include viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. Some of the most common infections leading to swollen lymph nodes include:

Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes may include:

  • lupus
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • sarcoidosis
  • amyloidosis
  • eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA)

Other less common causes of swollen lymph nodes include conditions such as:

Learn more about noncancerous swollen lymph nodes here.

Most of the time, swollen lymph nodes resolve on their own in a few weeks.

In and of themselves, swollen lymph nodes aren’t dangerous, and do not lead to further complications.

However, when swollen lymph nodes are the symptom of a serious underlying disease or condition, they should be addressed.

Most of the conditions that cause swollen lymph nodes, like common viral infections, aren’t serious. The most serious underlying conditions that cause swollen lymph nodes are cancer and sepsis, an extreme immune response that can be life threatening. Both are rare causes of swollen lymph nodes.

There are a few circumstances where you should contact a healthcare professional for guidance, including:

  • if your swollen lymph nodes continue to get bigger, or haven’t decreased in size after 2 weeks
  • if they feel hard to the touch, and don’t move a bit when you press on them
  • if you’re experiencing a high fever for more than 3–4 days, or if you’re experiencing night sweats
  • if your swollen lymph nodes don’t coincide with an illness or a flare-up of an autoimmune condition
  • if your lymph nodes are swollen below or right above your collarbone

Please seek immediate medical care if your lymph nodes are so swollen that you are finding it hard to swallow properly.

Treatment for your swollen, noncancerous lymph nodes will depend on the cause. For example, if an infection is causing your symptoms, treatment might include antibiotics or antivirals.

If your autoimmune condition is causing the symptoms, you may consider speaking to a physician about whether you need to change anything about your care plan, including medications.

Again, most cases of swollen lymph nodes go away in time, and there’s nothing you need to do to treat them. Still, there are a few things you can try to soothe your symptoms, such as:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • take an over-the-counter pain reliever
  • rest
  • apply a warm compress
  • when possible, elevate the swollen area

Finding something that feels like a swollen lymph node on your neck or elsewhere can be scary. Although your first thought may be to worry that you have cancer, more likely than not, your swollen lymph node is a sign of an infection or a less serious health condition.

However, you should never hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional if you have any new or troubling symptoms. If your swollen lymph node doesn’t start to decrease in size in about 2 weeks, you should be evaluated by a physician.